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Actually, this has turned out to be our longest conversation on the subject, which is usually only briefly remarked or alluded to. A German innkeeper makes a heavy joke about it and then says rather sadly that he wishes our countries to remain close. A friendly Belgian couple discuss the matter overtly, but very moderately, seeing both sides of the question. And in Italy it’s never mentioned: one talks to Italians about food, football, tennis, art and architecture, but somehow politics seems permanently inappropriate as a topic of conversation. Even Italian political scientists preferred not to talk about politics. So when I discuss Brexit in relation to the Grand Tour my most interesting source is introspection. What do I feel about “Europe”? The senses of property and identity involved are complex, ambiguous and contradictory.

So let’s start with the simple, Pavlovian, responses and the English person’s drive south from Calais, the sense of freedom and “other” in the unspectacular countryside of the Pas de Calais and Champagne with its battlefields, slag heaps and wooded ridges. We always switch to French music as we drive; Charles Trenet features prominently. This first part offers the pure pleasure of anticipation, of the warmth, the landscape, the flavours and the people to come: the first night in a modest French town, walking the walls of the town to watch the sun go down and raise an appetite for dinner. Beyond that, our second and third nights on this occasion were among the mountains where we normally ski, looking at the marmots and the edelweiss on slopes and meadows which seemed both familiar and unfamiliar. We are the first guests of the summer and the landlady of the hotel is desolée that the restaurant is not yet open, but she cooks us a meal anyway and we talk; as it happens, we both have grandchildren who would be described as of “mixed race” if you insist on talking about race.

Similarly, on the Italian side of the mountains, the proprietor of the restaurant my wife has picked from the evidence is molto dispiace that he is full, but he does find us a spot and he ends up sitting at our table and proposing that we all go together to the Foro Italico next year. Italy is always surprising: there are the artistic surprises to be found even in quite ordinary churches and the musical surprises: in Jesi we went to a concert by the Bersaglieri brass band who (famously) can play while running and this is how they start the show. Or the gastronomic surprises of simple, Salentan peasant food — wild onions and “everlasting” bread. Or the highly unsurprising Puglian afternoons, cycling through the olive groves and swimming from the rocks. The continent of Europe is infinite and infinitely lovable. Lyrical Europe: it was all mine until Brexit took it away.

At this point I should confess that I not only voted for Brexit, but wrote and spoke in favour of it — on radio, television and in live debate, a very minor, multi-media show equivalent to peeing in the ocean, but there can be no hiding which side I was on. My wife and I both voted, as we did in the referendum on the same subject in 1975: as on the previous occasion we voted in opposite ways. In 1975 she voted against UK membership of the (then) European Economic Community essentially because she was anti-capitalist and I voted for it on equal and opposite grounds. In 2016 I voted against while she thought it was too late to change the situation and voted to remain.

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Peter Bollada
December 20th, 2017
12:12 PM
I felt a glow of satisfaction on finishing this article in a cafe. Maybe it was also the quality of the tea (Darjeeling). It seems like the gentlest of reasons for Brexit I have come across - the travellers reason. To quote one gem: "I positively love being somewhere else, on someone else's territory".

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